Keeping the Home Fires Burning: Skyrim's "Hearthfire" DLC

Skyrim Hearthfire Boxart

I broke out laughing in the middle of my local gamestore. I was standing in line and they were playing the usual mélange of marketing bullshots on the screen behind the counter, and it had rolled around to the newest The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim DLC,”Hearthfire”. When the young lady behind the counter asked me what was so funny, I told her, "We've been playing it that way for years."

My younger son is the household aficionado of all things Elder Scrolls. The expansive world gave him a perfect stomping ground, and stomp he did, all up and down Morrowind and Vvardenfell. Now he's ridding Skyrim’s frozen peaks of dragon-kind. He’s not done with the main quest yet, but we’ve already had some memorably hilarious encumbrance problems. He accidentally quick-looted a secret chest he found and loaded himself down with 700 pounds of random stuff. He wouldn’t let it go, either. It took him several minutes and quite a bit of blue language to stagger down to the blacksmith (using Whirlwind Spirit over and over) so he could sell the heavy stuff. The guard kept harping on him about Shouting in city limits.

After that, getting the ability to build a house and own it without depopulating a small town first was right up our alley. We hung a SOLD sign on the expansion and started the download.

Back when he was playing Morrowind, by the end of the main quest my son had a metric butt-tonne of stuff. He's a completionist, and keeps everything that comes his way. Armor, weapons, potions, clothes, jewels, magic items - you name it. One chest got so full it imploded the contents into what they called an overflow loot bag, removing them from the game. Once he'd figured out what had happened and finished using strong language, he spent hours spreading things around and arranging them. His sisters referred to his house in Balmora as the "Sergeant Major's Dream House" or the "Barbie Dream Armory."

I found this highly ironic. If I would have let him, at that age he would have happily burrowed into a Teen-creep that would have made any Zerg feel right at home, consisting of laundry in states from "worn once" to "calculates it's own THACO," skateboard parts, unidentifiable "projects," and paper regurgitated from his backpack with half-completed homework on one side and over-wrought fantasy weapons and graffiti-like doodles scrawled on the other. Cleaning the boys' room involved two squads of Firebats, and they better have a good following wind. But when it came to the game, he showed a finicky neat-streak worthy of Martha Stewart.

We've had "Hearthfire" for several days now. On first blush it's kind of cool, in a nerfed The Sims sort of way. But as you go deeper, the limitations and problems really start to show through. I was hoping for mercantile possibilities along the lines of Fable or even Assassin's Creed. But this bug-ridden mess isn't even close to what used to be possible between the lines in earlier versions. After getting to a certain point, we broke out my original Xbox and my copy of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, just to compare and contrast.

Becoming a Member of the Landed Gentry

In Morrowind, there is no official way to legitimately get a house, but effectively getting one was fairly simple. My son would tour a city, weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each house and looking through them carefully. It was disturbingly like going to a real estate open house in real life. Then he would choose a house, systematically go kill anyone who lived there, and then kill anyone who decided they cared to come and investigate. Once anyone who could have noticed or reported any crimes like sleeping in their bed or taking stuff out of the chests was dead, the house was effectively his. Since you weren’t expecting any bonus from “ownership,” then that was good enough – you could move in and start arranging the furniture. It was certainly better than trying to find a permanent corpse to hide all your extra stuff in.

In Skyrim, that option has been removed but not in the way you might think. You can go kill anything that moves if you want, but even if you wiped the whole map clean it wouldn't matter. When you kill someone, ownership of their furniture and other items doesn't transfer. The house still thinks it's theirs, the bed still thinks it's their bed, and if you chose to sleep in it (if it even lets you) you don't get the benefits of sleeping in a bed you own. And the local guard takes this whole thing a lot more seriously than they did back in Balmora. Even if you manage to avoid a murder charge, you can get pegged as a trespasser, earning the appropriate bounty.

”Hearthfire” doesn't re-instate that whole might-makes-right scheme, or even put in something as logical as being able to legitimately transfer ownership. It skirts the whole process entirely. You can't buy an established property, and you can't just go in, pick a spot and start raising walls. If you want that, you better stick with Minecraft. There are three places you can buy a specific plot of land, and they are tied to three specific quests in the main game. The quests are a ways into the game, so if you're just starting out I'd probably hold off on the investment.

The code has a fairly long list of known issues. We ran into the one where the various Jarls and stewards don't have the proper dialog so you can't purchase the land. My son didn't end up with any choice at all because the dialogue options to buy the property from Sorli the Builder in Morthal or Jarl Skald the Elder in Dawnstar wouldn't show when he talked to them. We double-checked and yes, he had completed the proper quests to make the options available. All he could do was go back and forth between all three of them until finally he got a proper word in edgewise with Nenya and he got the option to buy a specific spot above the lake between Falkreath and Riverwood where he could build Lakeview Manor.

That whole mess made me grumble a bit. If they're going to make you go through all of this, at least they could have let you name the house you're building. I could have done a heck of a lot better than “Lakeview”. And only being able to go to that specific spot was a harsh limitation. There's a much nicer view of the lake a bit higher up the hill I would preferred to build on, with the added benefit that you're not sitting in the front pew at some weird mage's secret arcane altar.

Paging Frank Lloyd Wright...

Yeah, they don't mention that guy in the brochure. Once you get to your newly purchased property, the first order of business should probably be to get rid of the creepy squatter.

That done, dust your hands off and look around. You will find a drafting table, a carpentry table, an anvil, and some natural resources like wood, stone, clay, and a small amount of iron. Use the drafting table to lay out the building plans. You don't get to draw out the rooms yourself - it's a prefab sort of concept. It starts you off with a small house, and then you can add towers and halls to amplify your design into a more expansive dwelling.

The game starts construction from the ground up, building the foundation and then working up as you acquire the necessary resources. You can go get them yourself, buy them, or hire a steward and have them go get what you need. As you build the house, each room gets it's own workbench so you can craft things for that specific room.

There are some seriously wonky crafting behavior bugs. You can craft things and have it not apply even though it consumes the resources. My son built the same high-boy for the master bedroom three times before it actually showed up in the room. Your steward and other staff members are less than trustworthy. Things appear and disappear.

Once the structure is complete, you can either have your hired steward fill the rooms with furniture as he deems fit, or go into each room and craft the various items and place them yourself. Then you are free to fill your new chests and festoon your newly built walls with all the stuff that's been encumbering you.

Well ... sort of.

A Nord's Better Homes & Gardens

In Morrowind, my son would spend all the time he was allowed during his turns after school arranging his hundreds of items until he had it all laid out just so. He found all sorts of tricks. He figured out how to make things float by stacking them and then removing what was underneath, and that heralded a fashion for floating skulls with candles on top, or swords and candles painstakingly arranged into pseudo-chandeliers. One Saturday he spent hours arranging a rack of scrolls until the sparkles that puffed out when you rolled the cursor over them came up in a rainbow.

In Skyrim, we couldn't make any of those placement tricks work. You can't stack things to lift them and then abuse the telekinesis spell to pull or push them into place. You can't just put things anywhere you want, either. Each room has a specific purpose, and there are strict rules about what can be put in it and where they can be placed. If you want to place weapons/armor, it has to go on the mannequins placed in the armory room, so that sword-chandelier in the dining hall isn't an option.

On top of the crafting and dialog problems, we ran into a bug that wasn't in the problem list I found online. Remember that altar to an unknown god nearby I mentioned? After dealing with the unsavory mage that runs it, we ended up with a random dead body labeled "worshiper" in the middle of the front yard. She was killed by mudcrabs on her way to wherever several game-days ago, but for some reason her body keeps going away (as expected) and then reappearing in nothing but her undershift (unexpected and gruesome). It's kind of disconcerting to come around the corner of the house and see her lying there again.

The pitter-patter of little feet...

Now that you're a person of property, it's time to think about a family. Once the house is complete, you will get a letter in-game that will ask you if you want to move your spouse in (if you have one). If you followed a couple rules in layout and furnishings, you will also receive a letter giving you the option to adopt orphaned children, and bring home pets for your children to raise.

My son has a spouse, but she's making him money hand over fist in her shop in Solitude so he's decided she's going to stay there until he's done expanding the house. After that, he says we'll see about the kids. My vote is for Hroar, or that one cheeky little girl whose name I can't remember.

Contrary to some internet grumbling, there are more benefits to a home, spouse, and children than bragging-rights. Sleeping in a bed you own gets you a 10% increase in skill increases. Sleeping in the same bed as your spouse gives a 15% bonus to skill increases. If you sleep in the same house as your children, you get a bonus that makes healing spells and potions more effective. The problem is none of that works if you're a werewolf. Think carefully about where you are in the The Companions questline or the “Dawnguard” DLC before deciding to invest in this.

I can sort of understand why Bethesda would want to limit the sort of game-bending maneuvers that happened in Morrowind. But the more I think about this, the less happy I am about “Hearthfire.” There are plenty of games that have figured out an intelligent system for ownership transfer, and considering how much buying and selling goes on here I would consider it a necessary part of a well thought-out system. I still can't believe they shipped something we are expected to pay real world money for in this state. And even if they didn't want to build something in, true emergent gameplay is intrinsically better than being locked in a hackneyed, bug-ridden box.

That said, if you do persevere the end product does have its good points. While he was working on it, my son called me out of my office to show me the view off his newly completed back deck. We watched the northern lights ripple across the sky in great glowing sheets, and listened to the lonely howls of the wolves echo along the silver peaks of Pinewatch. It was a beautiful night.

Comments

Hrm. I'm torn on whether to pick this up when it hits the PC. It sounds like it's more restrictive than I expected.

That's a fair and accurate account of Hearthfire. Between Skyrim, Dawnguard, and itself, it's definitely the least baked. The sheer magnitude of the base game is such that I'm still floored by how much I have left to do and enjoy almost a year later of non-stop play, and will brook no bad word for it. Dawnguard is a little half-baked, but the amount of stuff it adds was enough to make me overlook its flaws. Hearthfire feels like a sop to customization, but it's not competent enough—too limited, too prescribed, and apparently too buggy (though I haven't run into any yet).

On the other hand, it's five bucks. I've paid for sandwiches that were worse experiences and didn't last a fraction as long. So if curiousity gets the better of you, "barely competent" might be worth a few hours of exploration. One clear-cut positive: you can fast-travel directly to your Hearthfire home at least.

Yes, but what skills are increasing when you're in bed with the spouse? Doesn't sounds like a good marriage if your combat skills improve. It must be athletics then...

Nevin73 wrote:

Yes, but what skills are increasing when you're in bed with the spouse? Doesn't sounds like a good marriage if your combat skills improve. It must be athletics then...

Well that explains why before my character had a spouse, only One-Handed increased.

The house construction sounds a lot like this mod, if perhaps with more options for customizing the decor. ("Build Your Own Home" just lets you choose a theme for a couple of rooms.)

With the modding tools out there, it seems to me that Bethesda has to do amazing things to make DLC worth paying money for on the PC.

You actually can get your own house legitimately in Morrowind. You can get an estate after getting enough reputation with one of the major houses and you can upgrade it over time.

First thing I'm doing is building a pantry

IMAGE(http://i.imgur.com/HRHpd.jpg)

So you're the one who stole the sweet rolls!

I an't wait to see what modders can do once they've broken down hearthfire and start implementing the cool bits in their own mods like build your own home or tundra defense.

Sorry momgamer, but a lot of the points you bring up are ridiculous.

First off, let's talk about the engine in general. Obviously, the engine has limitations. Even for the company that builds the engine, there are some things that are just incredibly difficult to solve. But look at the tasks the engine is already handling: combat, physics, lighting, weather, map loading, AI, combat AI (which is very different), crime AI (which is also very different), stealth detection, economics, relationships, non-linear quest lines, etc.

Now to your first point - you can't just place the house anywhere you want. One of the things that the engine is not capable of is real-time terrain deformation - you're not going to see actual craters in the ground after throwing a fireball, for example. So to that end, the houses have to be placed in predesignated areas.

As far as building the house in any fashion you want, you'd have to redesign the whole UI to accommodate the options that a player wants. Then you're talking about the Sims. Do you know why the Sims doesn't do what Skyrim does? Because no game engine on the planet can handle that many tasks at once.

Not being able to create stacks of floating items makes sense - the things that allowed your son to build crazy elaborate chandeliers, etc. were caused by bugs in the physics of the engine. If you want a chandelier badly in Skyrim, model one and throw it into your game. Of course, that would only be possible on a PC, but then that gets into the hardware and software restrictions that prevent loading mods on an Xbox version. I won't get into that.

You also bring up the fact that you can't rename your property, which is a bit silly. Honestly, when have you ever been able to rename your property in any Elder Scrolls game? It'd be nice, but I don't think it's possible. Again, something that could likely be blamed on engine limitations. And before anyone brings up the fact that the main character can be renamed, please note that the "Actor" name for the main character is always "player". One could argue that the "Actor" name for any NPC or location should be able to stay the same, but I think that would entail adding a modifiable entry to each actor, location, etc. in the entire database of the game. Huge overhaul for what's ultimately a pretty small gain.

Your primary point though - the fact that you can't buy any old house you want - rings true. I'll concede that to you. It would be nice if you could buy any property in any town, and then rent it out (a la Fable). The problem is, where Fable had a near-infinite supply of respawning nobodies, each NPC in Skyrim is designed and crafted individually. They may repeat some of the same styles or looks, but they're all unique. If you bought out the house owned by Vivienne Orsi in Solitude, where would she live? I suppose it'd be possible to force these people to all become homeless, but then what happens when she's supposed to give you a reward for finding her lost dog? Or how do you explain that her dialog and such doesn't change? I suppose you could change all their dialog to reflect a person's station in life, but that would exponentially increase the amount of work, too.

Ultimately, I think you're expecting too much out of Hearthfire. Bethesda will likely patch Hearthfire pretty soon to fix some of the issues you described (dialog, quests, and NPC movement in the house). Bear in mind that Microsoft is requiring Bethesda to release their mods a month early for Xbox, but Bethesda really develops this game for PC. So if you're going to be forced to play vanilla Skyrim, you should probably get a PC version so you can expand your game.

Also, a TON of mods out there fix issues that Bethesda just hasn't gotten around to. Again, PC only.

TL;DR - I have a lot of respect for you momgamer, but I think you're wrong. No offense meant, and my reasons are explained above.

FedoraMcQuaid wrote:

You actually can get your own house legitimately in Morrowind. You can get an estate after getting enough reputation with one of the major houses and you can upgrade it over time.

I was thinking that the entire time he was explaining this process. Hlaalu was always my favorite being just down the road from Balmora. Too bad with being on the PS3 there's no way to predict when I could try this out. Would like a big fancy mansion with a bedroom and 10 armories.

He had it, but I remember there was a reason why that place didn't work for my son as a home base and he chose to do it the way he did (lateness in the game combined with the remote location, I think). I'll have to ask him when he gets home from work.

namikaze wrote:

Sorry momgamer, but a lot of the points you bring up are ridiculous.

[...]
Your primary point though - the fact that you can't buy any old house you want - rings true. I'll concede that to you.
[...]
Ultimately, I think you're expecting too much out of Hearthfire.

While momgamer's desires (I'm not sure about expectations) may be higher than yours, I don't think her views, especially when put in the context of her previous experiences with homeownership in Elder Scrolls games, qualify as "ridiculous."

We can want more than we receive, even if we also understand why we only receive that which we do.

I want to judge Hearthfire by what is, and not what I want it to be, or what it seemed to promise to be. For instance, it's completely futile to judge it according to Minecraft. Of course that's fair, but. But in Minecraft, the reward for having to craft each individual component of a structure is getting to build that structure, atom by atom, however my imagination sees fit: timber, planks, brick, ore, stone, iron, I can place every block to build the rooms and designs I want. Every structure goes from raw materials to finished product in a process that I have a hand in determining every step of the way.

Hearthfire also attempts to deliver that experience. N.B. not the exact process, but the experience of creation. So I'm quarrying iron to smelt into ore to make nails, and I bring my pounds of nails—and stone and wood and clay and glass and locks and hinges—to the crafting table, open a menu and poof, a whole wing magically appears in toto behind me, with a single look and in its single prescribed spot.

So why bother requiring me to craft the individual damn nails if I have zero say in the final product? Of course namizake's answer is "engine limitations", but that doesn't address the real issue: that the actual process of crafting isn't meaningful. The crafting in Hearthfire is a time-consuming, inventory-clogging illusion, when the real work—the actual creation of the structure—is a couple clicks in a menu.

The final kick in the teeth is that you can get a steward who will automatically do everything for you via some clicks in a dialogue.

So why I have leveled Smithing to 100 twice, but been so negative about home-building, when they're the exact same system? Because at least Smithing, while a simplistic system, is quick and not onerous. A handful of leather and steel, boom, some armour; a handful more and better armour, equip it, and carry on your merry way. The requirements are minimal and mostly easy to source, and the results are immediate and material. But to build a door for Lakeview Manor, I need to craft nails, hinges and a lock, none of which actually exist as discrete entities that I could assemble into my door. Sure, my crafted steel sword is identical to a vendor's, but at least I didn't have to individually create the tang, hilt, crossbar, and scabbard, while having no say in their creation.

So there's my negative post to follow my ambivalent post. Will there be a positive post? Stay tuned.

Spoiler:

Don't actually stay tuned.

namikaze wrote:

You also bring up the fact that you can't rename your property, which is a bit silly. Honestly, when have you ever been able to rename your property in any Elder Scrolls game? It'd be nice, but I don't think it's possible. Again, something that could likely be blamed on engine limitations.

Engine limitations on changing the displayed text for a location? It's Skyrim, not Pong.

CY wrote:
namikaze wrote:

You also bring up the fact that you can't rename your property, which is a bit silly. Honestly, when have you ever been able to rename your property in any Elder Scrolls game? It'd be nice, but I don't think it's possible. Again, something that could likely be blamed on engine limitations.

Engine limitations on changing the displayed text for a location? It's Skyrim, not Pong.

Note, however, that Pong is improved if you occasionally shout FUS RO DAH! and hit your opponent with a mace.

TheHipGamer wrote:
CY wrote:
namikaze wrote:

You also bring up the fact that you can't rename your property, which is a bit silly. Honestly, when have you ever been able to rename your property in any Elder Scrolls game? It'd be nice, but I don't think it's possible. Again, something that could likely be blamed on engine limitations.

Engine limitations on changing the displayed text for a location? It's Skyrim, not Pong.

Note, however, that Pong is improved if you occasionally shout FUS RO DAH! and hit your opponent with a mace.

*Yoink!*

CY wrote:
namikaze wrote:

You also bring up the fact that you can't rename your property, which is a bit silly. Honestly, when have you ever been able to rename your property in any Elder Scrolls game? It'd be nice, but I don't think it's possible. Again, something that could likely be blamed on engine limitations.

Engine limitations on changing the displayed text for a location? It's Skyrim, not Pong.

I agree, but I wonder, do any of the stewards or Jarls refer to the location BY NAME? If so, there's your problem right there. If they have to say it, generally best to just name it something specific. That's why you're always Shepard in Mass Effect in spite of all of my requests to use my first name.

namikaze wrote:

TL;DR - I have a lot of respect for you momgamer, but I think you're wrong. No offense meant, and my reasons are explained above.

My retort, since I have many of the same complaints as Momgamer (and it is why I likely won't buy Hearthfire unless modders make good use of content that's exclusive to the DLC) is that, if they can't change the engine enough to make more of the content available that you claimed are currently not doable, then there's little to no point in the DLC. It's advertised as a "build your own home" content pack, but in reality it's little more than another three player-purchaseable homes where instead of purchasing progressive furniture packs (like in core Skyrim), you're purchasing progressive construction states to the home.

Um... woohoo?

Nah, not really.

Ideally, yes, it would be something more like The Sims or Ultima Online, incorporating elements of the Skyrim Construction Kit client into the real-time Skyrim client (why hello there, workaround for the engine limitations!) to build your home within predesignated spots in the world using prefabricated construction pieces.

It's not that farfetched with some creative coding and inventiveness.

Farscry wrote:

It's not that farfetched with some creative coding and inventiveness.

I disagree 100%. Having done some mod work with Bethesda's creation kits (since Morrowind), BioWare's Aurora Engine (Neverwinter Nights up to Dragon Age 2), and Bohemia Interactive's Real Virtuality Engine (did this professionally for the U.S. Army) - there are caps to what can be done, and what can be expected.

The biggest thing that I brought up (and which no one has yet commented on) is that the engine cannot handle real-time terrain deformation. If the engine cannot do that, you're going to be absolutely stuck when it comes to adding buildings or placing objects bigger than your character. One of the best mods I've seen when it comes to handling this issue is Camping Kit of the Northern Ranger, which allows you to "build" your own campsite. The modder allows the user to adjust the position of everything that you place, using a simple menu. Raising and lowering the gear and structures is really where it shines. But you'll never get that tent to be "just right" - it'll always have some part that sticks into or out of the ground at an odd angle. And that's just a tent! Imagine doing that with a house.

I'll paraphrase your statement as, "why do it if you can't do it right?" A few reasons come to mind. Firstly, modders have done it in the past. Bethesda's simply gone a few steps further. As an example of the things added by Hearthfire: animations, dialog, quests, NPCs, and the potential to add more content based on Hearthfire's framework. That last bonus is probably the best reason to do Hearthfire.

Follow my logic on this one: players get Hearthfire, they build their houses, they raise an adopted family, etc. Next, a modder or Bethesda (probably a modder first) creates a quest in which your family is kidnapped by a resurgent cult of dragon priests and their followers. Now you have a series of quests in which you must defend your home, rescue your family, etc.

namikaze wrote:
Farscry wrote:

It's not that farfetched with some creative coding and inventiveness.

I disagree 100%. Having done some mod work with Bethesda's creation kits (since Morrowind), BioWare's Aurora Engine (Neverwinter Nights up to Dragon Age 2), and Bohemia Interactive's Real Virtuality Engine (did this professionally for the U.S. Army) - there are caps to what can be done, and what can be expected.

While modders may be restricted in this manner, does that necessarily mean that Bethesda couldn't modify the engine in-house to work in this manner? I'm not talking about real-time terrain deformation here. I'm talking about inserting prefabbed construction elements either in real-time or via a sort of "plug-in" mode of the construction kit.

I'm not being argumentative for its own sake; I'm just brainstorming. I don't actually know if this is remotely feasible or not.

Farscry wrote:

While modders may be restricted in this manner, does that necessarily mean that Bethesda couldn't modify the engine in-house to work in this manner? I'm not talking about real-time terrain deformation here. I'm talking about inserting prefabbed construction elements either in real-time or via a sort of "plug-in" mode of the construction kit.

Rebuilding an engine, or adding features to an engine is a huge undertaking. While Bethesda has the ability to make the changes they want to make, actually making the changes to code, staying within the parameters of minimum performance requirements, making the changes transparent to the outer layers of the engine (modding), and all the other things that go into even the smallest engine change can become a nightmare, quickly.

There's a term used in all software development called "feature creep" - this is when people start adding features to a project, and eventually the project becomes completely unfeasible. That may have been what happened here. I'm not privy to Bethesda's development team meetings, but I've seen projects that started off simple, like Hearthfire, and have grown to monumental tasks that simply never get made. If that started happening with Hearthfire (and we're unlikely to ever know for sure), then good on Bethesda for nipping it in the bud.

Realistically, the only time that any software engine should be rebuilt is when there are so many features that you want to implement, that patching just seems out of the question. Inserting pre-fabbed construction elements would not require a rebuild. I think it could absolutely be done - build a structure by moving elements around, confirming their placement, etc. But it would be sloppy at best. In order to realize this ideal, you'd need to create a new UI that allows the player to change their view of the structure, adjust the placement along 6 axes, etc. Just that alone would be a very strong challenge. Not necessarily impossible, but really really hard.

Like I said though - the only mod that I've seen that even comes close to implementing the functionality we're talking about is Camping Kit of the Northern Ranger. It does a good job of allowing the player to temporarily create an object in the world, comes with its own little "zone" of the inside of the tent, to account for terrain issues and such, and it's completely autonomous. The only issue is that nothing will ever look correct when you place objects on top of the terrain, unless the terrain is nearly flat. This is because the objects can't conform to the curves, valleys, dips, and rises. However - if Bethesda could implement real-time terrain deformation, then the sky's the limit. You could have a pre-built wall fabrication, that when placed levels itself and doesn't go sticking into the ground at odd angles. This would allow you to place walls and potentially also create roofing.

Then, the trick is converting this outdoor space (because ultimately all this would be placed outdoors and be part of the outdoor map cell) into an interior space. Let's say I built a funky N-shaped room. I'm monogramming Skyrim. Anyway, this room then has to become an indoor cell with the same shape and dimensions (for realism's sake), just so that things that I place in the cell don't disappear. In all the outdoor cells, items can be moved around, picked up, destroyed, etc. by NPCs and the engine as a whole - you don't want that happening to your house's walls, let alone to your valuables inside the walls. That is another big hurdle.

Ultimately, the best way to implement the "build your own house" element is the way that Bethesda did it - unless we're talking about implementing features in Elder Scrolls 6, there's no way Bethesda's going to take the time and money to change some of the key elements of the engine just for a $20 DLC.

Namikaze, I appreciate your comments very much, but I'm going to have to keep disagreeing with you here. You may not be aware of this but I do this for a living - I'm well aware of feature creep. But they've known this was a weakness in their setup for four versions of the game now. Especially since Skyrim is built on a new engine. We're officially past calling this a oopsie and having this set as "fix in next build" in the bug-tracker. This is a profound design flaw, and they've had plenty of time to re-think it.

You're saying something's impossible when the game already does exactly that. I don't know about the other properties yet but Lakeview Manor is built on a significant slope and the game has no problem working the foundations of the several different levels of structure into it and keeping the floors level.

Changing the engine isn't the base problem anyways. The building part is not all that necessary. Transferring ownership of real and personal property and making inheritance work right is the real issue, and should have been part of a properly designed economic system.

You should not make ownership part of the base features of the objects in the game, and then make it impossible to do anything with it outside of hacking the game. The underlying game databases already track this info, and the API hooks to modify it are already built in - that's what the Console uses.

Once the underpinnings are thought through, the basics for managing the transfer are already built into the UI. Have whoever is the owner of the house handle the transaction using the same setup as used for every other frickin' merchant, fence, gandydancer and bindlestiff in the game.

And besides, the assertion that if you bought So-and-so's house it would block a quest being a deal-breaker doesn't make any sense to me. There are many places where players make choices in their quests that effectively block/delay/remove the options to do others. Heck, there's one here in Hearthfire. If you have decided to be come a werewolf in the The Companion quests, then none of the benefits of the DLC work for you, and it also monkeys with some stuff in Dawnguard. Having your choices actually shape the game experience is one of the most awesome points of these games.

Besides, unless you killed that lady in your example, she has to live SOMEWHERE if you bought her house. So her cat would move with her, and the quest would be triggered from wherever she's at.

Or just limit it to structures that wouldn't cause you blocking problems. There are hundreds of non-story-integral structures in the game that could be used. Have the town stewards or a specific villager act as a sort of "real estate agent" to help you look through the available properties in each location and handle the transaction.

Oh whoa, another DLC? I haven't even got around to getting Dawnguard.

momgamer:

I'll absolutely grant that being a landowner and property owner (perhaps even a landlord) would be a great feature to the game. However, the inner workings of Bethesda's engine would block some of these things from working in all situations. You'd have to have pre-designated houses that could transfer ownership - that's exactly what's already in place. The fact that you could go and murder a family and take their home in Morrowind was a bug, not a feature. The fact that many objects in Morrowind had no physics properties was a bug, not a feature.

momgamer wrote:

Or just limit it to structures that wouldn't cause you blocking problems. There are hundreds of non-story-integral structures in the game that could be used. Have the town stewards or a specific villager act as a sort of "real estate agent" to help you look through the available properties in each location and handle the transaction.

I love this idea, and I think someone should make a mod for it. Good luck though - with the versatility of the modding system, any modder can designate any NPC as being "essential". And since there are only a limited number of ways of marking your NPCs as being special (say, for a real estate agent to not sell a person's property and be functional with mods), setessential is kind of the ideal solution there. Hell, anyone with a console command can do it (the command is setessential <#>). Once you've designated an NPC as essential, all it appears to the primary user to do is mark the NPC as immortal - what is also does is mark them as being failure NPCs, so that if you are able to bypass the immortality (say, by using the kill command on the NPC) it will end your game. This sort of sorting mechanism would be required in order to properly implement a system that prevents some NPC houses from being sell-able, while still allowing functionality with other mods and systems.

Imagine, if you will, that a person marks an NPC as essential after having bought their house. In this kind of scenario, the AI would probably keep trying to get into the house, find themselves unable to get into the house, but continue to try over and over until something glitched. Then you walk into your house, which the AI thinks is his/her house, and then you (or it) becomes a trespasser (probably both of you do). The potential monkey wrenches of this kind of system are numerous and would have to be worked out. We're talking hundreds (probably thousands) of NPCs, not to mention housecarls, followers, and custom-added NPCs.

momgamer wrote:

But they've known this was a weakness in their setup for four versions of the game now. Especially since Skyrim is built on a new engine. We're officially past calling this a oopsie and having this set as "fix in next build" in the bug-tracker. This is a profound design flaw, and they've had plenty of time to re-think it.

I'm confused about what you're talking about here. Are you talking about the versatility of the engine? Are you talking about real-time terrain deformation? Are you talking about building things a la Minecraft?

momgamer wrote:

You're saying something's impossible when the game already does exactly that. I don't know about the other properties yet but Lakeview Manor is built on a significant slope and the game has no problem working the foundations of the several different levels of structure into it and keeping the floors level.

The only reason this works is because the models were built with the sole intention of being placed in this location. That's why the whole system is "pre-fab." I can guarantee that if Bethesda wanted to implement what you're asking them to have implemented, it would have taken a huge reworking that would not have been fiscally viable.

Ideally, a DLC development like this could serve as a first step toward learning how to allow similar options in the next game. But that would have to be a fairly high level strategic decision for Bethesda.

I'm mostly mad that I can't get the third house because I played the Dark Brotherhood quest line months ago and killed the one person who will sell me the land for the house in Falkreath. So I'm locked out of one third of the content (and cheevios) I played for simply because I played the game.

Draco wrote:

I'm mostly mad that I can't get the third house because I played the Dark Brotherhood quest line months ago and killed the one person who will sell me the land for the house in Falkreath. So I'm locked out of one third of the content (and cheevios) I played [paid?] for simply because I played the game.

OTOH, games having the chutzpah to block content from you as a consequence for your choices—games like Morrowind—are sorely missed by many. The industry seems to sympathize with you at the moment though, so maybe consider this an anomaly.

Gravey wrote:
Draco wrote:

I'm mostly mad that I can't get the third house because I played the Dark Brotherhood quest line months ago and killed the one person who will sell me the land for the house in Falkreath. So I'm locked out of one third of the content (and cheevios) I played [paid?] for simply because I played the game.

OTOH, games having the chutzpah to block content from you as a consequence for your choices—games like Morrowind—are sorely missed by many. The industry seems to sympathize with you at the moment though, so maybe consider this an anomaly.

I would accept that if it was a known quantity at the time. If I knew before killing the Jarl's man that I would have a home purchase locked out, I may have rethought my choice. However, this is after the fact. I played through the Dark Brotherhood quest months ago before Hearthfire was ever conceived.

Draco wrote:
Gravey wrote:
Draco wrote:

I'm mostly mad that I can't get the third house because I played the Dark Brotherhood quest line months ago and killed the one person who will sell me the land for the house in Falkreath. So I'm locked out of one third of the content (and cheevios) I played [paid?] for simply because I played the game.

OTOH, games having the chutzpah to block content from you as a consequence for your choices—games like Morrowind—are sorely missed by many. The industry seems to sympathize with you at the moment though, so maybe consider this an anomaly.

I would accept that if it was a known quantity at the time. If I knew before killing the Jarl's man that I would have a home purchase locked out, I may have rethought my choice. However, this is after the fact. I played through the Dark Brotherhood quest months ago before Hearthfire was ever conceived.

It's an interesting thing. The rules of the world have changed on you, to a certain extent, and rendered new consequences to past actions.